Asena Blessed, Book 2 of The Chronicles of Altaica, by Tracy M. Joyce

The Chronicles of Altaica make for a great read, the kind that you keep reading as you stumble off the bus and still read right up until you arrive (sigh) at the door of the day job. Adventure and danger, hard rides and mountain crossings, spies and plots and murders, primal magic and goddesses, war and strategy, skirmishes and battles and desperate duels. Here is a whole world of rivalries, peoples, cultures and absorbing characters.

First, catch up by looking at my review of the first part of The Chronicles of Altaica in which villagers fled an invading army, got swept out to sea and then were rescued by people in another country that they knew nothing of.

My difficulty now is to urge you to read this sequel, Asena Blessed, without blurting out ‘spoilers’. The Cover tells us this: ‘Isaura has emerged from the spirit realm forever altered .. Caught between two ancient powers, Isaura must try to make her own path. .. Aid arrives from an unexpected source – one who knows no rules and respects no one.’ I will highlight some aspects of the world building and the characters that I particularly liked.

Animal guardians have become a feature in fantasy tales since their appearance in Phillip Pullman’s books. We readers may have grown used to these linked animals existing mainly for the sake of the humans, like enhanced pets. Tracy Joyce turns that idea on its head by considering the wild nature of the linked animal. What if the linked animal has it’s its own intentions? What if it could be too powerful and difficult to control? Some scenes in Asena Blessed took me by surprise because the guardian acted on its own account, and the result was not remotely cutesy

Complicated heroes. Throughout the first book the reader identifies with the dilemmas of the central character, Isaura. In Asena Blessed, however, she is swept unwillingly into the spirit realm and emerges more conflicted than ever. Her resulting actions are not necessarily noble at all times. I often blinked at the turn of events. ‘Did she really do that?’

Matriarchs and Female Warriors. To say this book includes ‘strong female characters’ is an understatement. Among the Altaicans, all adults train for fighting and the tattooed and hardened women ride with the men.Key movers in this story include the female keepers of lore known as ‘Kenati’, the matriarch of the wolf-like Asena clan , the Lady Malak, who strives to undermine the power of the tyrant Ratilal, and an intervening female spirit who may or may not be a goddess but who in any case seems to be playing her own game.

Plausible Warfare: We have all endured movies and novels in which the fighting scenes are over the top: every warrior somehow knows all the modern martial arts. Bows fire multiple arrows at a time, arrows and sword blades cut like lasers through the heaviest body armour, and so on until it all gets silly. Not so here. The tactics, weapons, armour, siegecraft and melees are based on the authors research of warfare in our own non-Altaica world. The fighting here is brutal, the wounds nasty, and soldiers do appalling things to civilians. This is a fantasy world but it is no fairy tale.

The Chronicles of  Altaica: are published by Odyssey Books. The beautiful covers, full of meaning about the stories within, are designed by Karri Klawitter. You can obtain signed copies at Tracy Joyce’s website and also read about the forthcoming third book in the series. You can also read FREE COPIES of ‘Rada’, a story set in the Zaragarian Empire 16 years before the Chronicles begin.

Where to find Asena Blessed: Book Depository, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And if you would like your dollars to go to other than the giant companies, consider these retailers:
Bookshop.org, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo.

(Images on this post are courtesy of publisher Odyssey Books and permission of the author.)

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

Altaica, Book 1 in the Chronicles of Altaica, by Tracy M. Joyce

I made a classic blunder with this first book of the Chronicles of Altaica by having  ‘just a quick look’ during my lunch break. By the time I looked up I had escaped rampaging armies, got embroiled in village jealousies and tensions, fought off invading scouts, got swept out to sea on a raft .. And was late to get back to work!

It was months before I obtained the sequel, Asena Blessed. Before touching it, I read the first book again. I enjoyed it even more this time, absorbing more of the interplay of the characters, the skill of the world building, and quite simply the story.

‘Her stories are gritty, a little dark and morality is like quicksand.  You won’t find any unicorns or fairies here.’ (Tracymjoyce.com.)

As the refugees on the raft drift at the mercy of ocean currents they become suspicious of one another, and particularly of healer Isaura, even though her skills with a bow had saved their lives. Ah, but in their codes of behaviour women ought not to fight at all, let alone kill.

‘Two things your race is known for -magic and murder. Hill clan witch!’ …. No one would look at Isaura, no one would speak to her.

The action now shifts to the peoples of Altaica, ‘a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power. (Back cover.)’ Umniga, a wise woman, discovers the strangers and has her reasons for wanting to rescue them, altruism not being the first. Umniga and her acolyte Asha persuade the ruling clan chiefs to help.’

‘By the gods, how long have they been on this boat? How much longer can they last?’ Umniga the Kenati of Bear Clan.

 Now begins a canny play of brutal politics between the clans. The refugees have not arrived at a peaceful land! Ambushes, plots, murder, hard rides, sieges .. the pace doesn’t let up. A great read about people responding to the shock of having to make a new life among strangers. Plenty of battles too.

As I ready to plunge into Asena Blessed, I am full of questions, in particular, what are the ‘Asena’ and why do they have their own quarrel with a seeming goddess; and will Isaura’s raw and unpracticed powers do more harm than good? Now I open the next book and, yes, I am straight into a world of raw magic and unexpected twists once again. Review soon.

The Chronicles of  Altaica: are published by Odyssey Books. The beautiful covers which are full of meaning about the stories within are designed by Karri Klawitter. You can obtain signed copies at Tracy Joyce’s website and also read about the forthcoming third book in the series.

Where to find Altaica:  Book Depository, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
And if you would like your dollars to go to other than the giant companies, please consider these retailers:
Bookshop.org, Booktopia, AbeBooks, Chapters Indigo , Desertcart.

(Images on this post are courtesy of publisher Odyssey Books and permission of the author.)

Your host, Mark, is Mawson Bear’s Guardian, photographer, editor, blundering typist, chocolates fetcher and cushions re-arranger. Baffled Bear Books ABN: 4787910119.

A Single Light, by Patricia Leslie: monsters prowl the Australian highlands

‘When Rick Hendry is contacted by a federal agent to help investigate a growing number of mysterious vanishings across Australia, he finds himself immersed in a world where normal is a very narrow view of reality. The two men are joined by a doctor, an archeologist, a journalist, and an Afflur Hunter.’ 

They soon discover that in the bush, south of Sydney, among the beach goers, walkers and picnickers, a menace grows. The mysterious Bledray monsters are preparing for a Gathering; a feast of epic proportions. Only the Afflur Hunter and Guardians can stop them, but their strength is failing and humans are needed to help prevent a second holocaust’. 

A Single Light is an urban fantasy tale of ghoulish monsters and non-human protectors battling to save humanity amid the spectacular and rugged landscapes of the Royal National Park south of Sydney.‘ From Back Cover.

Reporter Gabriella worries about the state of her colleague Rick Hendry who is clearly not sleeping well. It turns out he doesn’t want to sleep because in sleep he dreams – and the dreams terrify him.

‘There was something out there, taking people ..’ p.36. Officer Anthony Biglia.

Biglia comes across an expose written by Hendry and believes that the reporter can help him. They swap their theories. Jamie Morell finds abnormalities in the victims’ blood. None of them can work out how and why eight people are dead.

‘All are equal in the face of eternal hunger.’

For the Bledray, Maliak, Moriah, Jedidiah and Laeh, the humans exist only to be protected or to be hunted. On the plains below the high country lie millions of souls, a feast to gorge on.

‘ She ran then, urgency gripping her as the screaming of dying souls mixed with the stars and faded into oblivion.’ p. 136

I found that the hunger of the creatures is somehow believable- it’s the idea of insatiable appetite taken to extremes. The sense of menace grows as the hunters of souls and the hunters of Bledray converge upon one another until there is a climatic encounter as bush fire rages. (The fire scenes seemed particularly struck me in the light of the huge fires in NSW last summer covering some of the same ranges.) The author’s attention to detail and sense of place in the descriptions of these highlands in serves to ground the story. You can read more about Patricia Leslie and her work at her website  patricialeslie.net.

Patricia LeslieA Single Light_a novel by Patricia Leslie_The beach almost deserted

Where to find A Single Light: From the publisher Odyssey Books. Also at Amazon Australia, at Amazon USA, at BookDepository, at Barnes and Noble, at Chapters Indigo, Waterstones, Booktopia and more. Or ask your friendly local bookshop to obtain it for you.

Patricia Leslie also wrote The Ouroborus Key, an absorbing blend of Sumerian mythology, esoteric Templar secrets, and a detective story. This makes for a fascinating combination as you can see from my review here.

The graphics shown here are courtesy of the author and of publisher Odyssey Books.

You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a dark coffee tragic and bibliophile as well as the Guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.

The Esme Trilogy: Esme’s Gift, by Elizabeth Foster

A parade of craft cruised the lagoon: gilt-edged ferries and gondolas in jewel-like colours – dazzling blues, crimsons, emerald greens. Sea dragons looped above the rooftops, twisting their sinuous forms … . Esme’s Gift Ch. 3.’

Mark, guardian of Mawson Bear says: Oh dear, our world is not in its finest shape right now, is it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be elsewhere. Fortunately, I have to hand Esme’s Gift, the sequel to Esme’s Wish (see my review here and my re-visit here) and I can plunge once more into another world and see again the towers of the city of Esperance and the siren islands of Aeolia.

Esme returns to Aeolia after her failed attempt to convince her father to join her. The evil Nathan Mare is at large and intent on finding the secret knowledge entrusted to her. But high-school waits for no teenager, and in the classrooms and library of Pierpont school she can find friends and allies. And what a library it is.

(Ancient gondalas) repurposed into shelves, lined the library’s walls … No longer fit to carry passengers, they now carried books to the shores of the readers’ minds. Esme’s Gift Ch. 12.’

Esme must gather the strange ingredients of the only elixir that can save her mother. To obtain these elements takes all her courage and all the combined gifts and powers of her friends. But some people are not who they seem to be, and the tension never lets up.

Esme’s Wish and Esme’s Gift are written by Elizabeth Foster with the ‘Young Adult’ audience in mind. But if you happen to be older (after all, some of us have yet to find a potion to wind back the years – and if the high risk alchemical experiments in Esperance are anything to go by, we should stay well away from any such potions or concoctions, or who knows what could happen!) .. if you are an older reader who loves beguiling fantasy worlds and tales of ghosts and of quests into caverns guarded by monsters and ghouls, and if you also don’t object to dragons .. The books of the Esme trilogy will be a treat for you.

Reading of Esperance in Aeolia, a realm of seas, islands, lagoons, oh – and dragons.

Where to find this other world: Esme’s Gift is published by Odyssey Books, a small press where ‘books are an adventure’. You can immerse yourself in this trilogy by looking at Amazon Australia, at Amazon USA, at Book Depository , at Barnes and Noble, and more. You can see more about Esme’s search for her mother and about the author, Elizabeth Foster, on her web den.

You have wandered into Mark’s blog. I am guardian and photographer for Mawson Bear, one of this bright world’s very few Writer-Bears. Mawson wrote She Ran Away From Love and It’s A Bright world To Feel Lost In.
Reviews about Mawson’s books: ‘Great book, well written and extremely engaging. Bonus it is all about bears!!!! Marvellous !!!!!!!’  Reviewer Navaron on Amazon. ‘ A magical little grand tour into the meaning of happiness’ Sharrie Williams, author, on Amazon.

Return to Aeolia: Refresh your soul in the realm of Esme’s Wish

Tears pricked Esme’s eyes. Her mother had vanished, without trace, when she was eight. No one know what had really happened to her- or so they said. Esme’s Wish. Ch. 1.’

Mark, guardian of Mawson Bear says:
Another dreary Monday. I popped my head out from the pillows and saw that my Grownup ‘real’ world was not in it’s finest state. Longing to immerse myself in another realm, I picked up Esme’s Wish (which I reviewed here), to read once again on the commuter ride to work.

Esperance appearing to be drifting on the lagoon’s surface, as if its hold on existence was so tenuous that it could slip back into the depths at any moment. High above the city, sinuous shapes pinwheeled across the sky … Dragons. Esme’s Wish Ch.3.’

Not that Aeolia is trouble free either, far from it. Evil characters disrupt the harmony and the city of Esperance is crumbling from earthquakes. The mystery of her lost mother just gets deeper no matter how far Esme investigates nor how many dangers she faces.

A loud cry derailed Esme’s train of thought. Her head whipped up. A rush of feathers filled her vision. The sea eagle was streaking down toward her, it’s sharp talons poised, ready to strike. Esme’s Wish Ch.3.’

Aeolia, even so, was a welcome haven for me from Year of The Covid for a week of train rides and lunch breaks. All too soon, I turned the last page. The wind-played harps and song spells faded, and the horrible upsets of Grownup Reality shoved themselves again into my mind.

Esme’s Wish and Esme’s Gift are written by Elizabeth Foster with the ‘Young Adult’ audience in mind, and as Esme and her friends are aged about 15, it is rightly finding a wide readership there. Why then, do I recommend these books to those of us older than fifteen (in my case far older). Why, that is, apart from your certain appreciation of this well crafted fantasy world with its own myths, history and songs, the believable characters, the well paced plot, the fine literary language and, oh, the dragons? Didn’t Tolkein say that he longed for a world in which there were dragons? Don’t we all.

We read, in the end, to not be entirely stuck in the ordinariness or the troubles of our own lives, and I have found Young Adult books and even some children’s books (think of the Narnia Chronicles) to do this as well for me, and often better, than Adult books can do. Oh, I still appreciate the novels written with the mature, sophisticated, world weary and somewhat cynical reader in mind (ie me); but another world entirely, like Aeolia, suits me very much these days. Perhaps many of you feel the same.

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The island of Esperance in Aeolia, a realm of seas, islands, lagoons, oh- and dragons.

Fortunately, I have to hand Esme’s Gift, the sequel to Esme’s Wish, and I can soon plunge down once more into other far places where I would rather be, the towers of the city of Esperance and the siren islands of Aeolia. Why not get your copies now and join me there.

Where to find this other world: Esme’s Wish is published by Odyssey Books, a small press where ‘books are an adventure’. You can immerse yourself too in the world of Aeolia by looking at Amazon here, at Book Depository and at Barnes and Noble. You can see more about Esme’ search for her mother and about the author, Elizabeth Foster, on her web den.

You have wandered into Mark’s blog. I am guardian and photographer for Mawson Bear, one of this bright world’s very few Writer-Bears. Mawson wrote She Ran Away From Love and It’s A Bright world To Feel Lost In.
Reviews about Mawson’s books: ‘Great book, well written and extremely engaging. Bonus it is all about bears!!!! Marvellous !!!!!!!’  Reviewer Navaron on Amazon. ‘ A magical little grand tour into the meaning of happiness’ Sharrie Williams, author, on Amazon.

Some of the best philosophers are bears: Introducing Mawson Bear

Here is some of the text of an interview by Rachel Nightingale, author of The Tales of Tarya, of Mark, Mawson Bear’s Guardian.

Mawson is the proud author of It’s a bright world to feel lost in, published by Publisher Obscura. This is a beautiful philosophical book in the vein of The blue day book by Bradley Trevor Grieve. It is the perfect sort of book to buy as a stocking stuffer or Kris Kringle for someone who likes to muse about life, and who hasn’t lost their sense of whimsy. Mawson ‘s second book is She Ran Away From Love.’

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

‘When young I devoured books by many authors but when it comes to the magic they brought me, I will list those by C.S Lewis (Narnia), Issac Asimov (Sci Fi), and Rosemary Sutcliffe (historical fiction).’

Like most readers, what I sought was to be transported from this world.  With these writers I could be in Norman England winning back a castle during a school break, in the woods of Narnia on a rainy Sunday, or fleeing rogue robots during a long car ride.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

‘Shyly he says, ‘I listen to the bears’.

Poets, actors, composers, painters, ‘artistic people’, all speak reluctantly about the heart of creativity. They proffer vague expressions like ‘feeling inspired’, ‘being guided’, ‘trusting the muse’, ‘entering into the role’. What does this mean? I think it’s about listening for ‘something’. Now, this ‘something’ cannot not be analysed or modelled on a flow chart. It’s very shy, and it needs to trust you to respect it. I think the greatest magical power of a writer is to gently –don’t startle it –gently reach out for this ‘something’, gain it’s trust; and then to let characters and story flow on from there.

I listen to my bears. I never know when I’ll hear in a voice as quiet as can be imagined the best ponders framed in the best words; and these are ideas and words that I myself did not have in mind, really I didn’t. When I don’t listen but just grind on, my writing is not right: the voice feels wrong, the images don’t flow, and it is not satisfying’.

For the rest of the interview please visit Rachel Nightingale’s website.

While you are there be sure to read more about the books by this novelist, playright, performer and thespian. Rachel ponders much about the power of story and fantasy in our lives. At her website you can learn more about the Commedia dell’Arte, an inspiration for The Tales of Tarya.

My review of The Harlequins Riddle, the first of those tales, is right here. Columbine’s Tale, Book two of the series, and Book Three, Pierrots’ Song are also out now, published by  Odyssey Books.

The Tales of Tarya is now available at Amazon as a complete Kindle Set!

You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a bibliophile, dark coffee tragic, and the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear,  one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Songlines, The Sentinels of Eden Book 1, by Carolyn Denman

I got four angry strides away before Harry changed the course of my life with six easy words. “Can you hear the river crying?” Lainie, Ch. 8

Songlines 2760

From Back Cover Description: ‘In the heart of the Wimmera region of Victoria, an ancient gateway to Eden is kept hidden and safe by a creature so powerful that even the moon would obey her commands – at least it would if she had any idea that she wasn’t just a normal girl about to finish high school.

When a mining company begins exploratory sampling near Lainie’s sheep farm, a family secret is revealed that makes her regret not having learnt more about her Indigenous heritage.

What she’s told by their farmhand, Harry – an Aboriginal Elder – can’t possibly be true, but then the most irritating guy in class, Bane, begins to act even more insanely toward her than ever, until she can no longer deny that something very unusual is going on.’

‘Your mother’s grave is a lie.’ Harry to Lainie.

Synopsis:  Lainie’s days are filled with study, repairing fences,  ‘pulling stubborn lambs out of angry ewes’, and contemplating a future beyond this one-grain-silo town.

When the two important adults in her life, Aunt Lily and Harry, try to tell her that the mother she never knew is actually alive in some ‘Eden’, she reacts with anger. Though not clued up on the Book of Genesis, Lainie is sure the original Garden was not in the Great Southern Land (Australia). Besides, her mother lies buried. Harry, though, disappears. This is the catalyst for Lainie to seek out her roots.

This unusual adventure, aimed at Young Adults, is so thoughtful it deserves a wide readership. It mixes a coming-of-age tale and romance with ancient memories, religious motifs and mythologies.

The slow burn narrative begins in a nowheresville ‘where the creeks are named after dead animals’. Carolyn Denman  builds the details of school life, farm work and hikes through the fire-prone bush until the fantastical elements seem to arise quite plausibly from this backdrop .

I see it as an engrossing story of protecting the one Eden we all have now, our Earth. Lainie and her friends, Bane, Noah and Tessa, represent our only hope –  young people. Earth’s enemies are symbolised by the mining giant Kolsom. But there is more going on than the struggle between these Sentinels of a special place and Kolsom’s devious agents. Something seems to be going badly wrong with the nature of Eden itself.

Don’t be fooled by the early steady pace; the acceleration toward the utterly unforeseeable events took me by surprise. You are bound to want to know what on earth – and Eden – is going to happen next. Fortunately, the sequels are now available too.

I smiled at him, winked, then stepped across the boundary into Paradise.

Note on song lines: To Indigenous Australians, a songline, or dreaming track, is one of the paths across the land or sky which mark the route followed by creator-beings. These made the earth and everything in it. This early time is called the Dreamtime or the Dreaming. Carolyn Denman  says in the foreword, ‘My desire is that this tale reflects the co-existance and interconnectedness of belief systems.’

A word on the dialogue: Some of the lively terms sprinkling the novel might be new and fun to readers beyond Australia: you will hear of colours, for instance, ‘as bright as a tradies wardrobe’, and of dorks, drongos, fairy bread, even a mention of the legendary drop bears*.

Songlines: The Sentinels of Eden and the sequels  Sanguine and Sympath are published by Odyssey Books. You can read more about them at Carolyn Denman’s website.

Where to find them: through BookDepository, and Amazon, and AbeBooks.

*What’s a drop bear? Not telling.

You are at Baffled Bear Books. Here writes Mark, guardian of Mawson Bear.
Mawson is a Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.  He is the writer bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In. Mawson has many qualitites but he is not a drop bear.

The Ouroboros Key, by Patricia Leslie

The Ouroboros Key, published by Odyssey Books,  blends Sumerian mythology, esoteric Templar secrets,  and a detective story, all played out in the mountains of modern day Colorado.

Ouroboros lrg 2479

Before Dan Tenney can understand the strange dreams he’s had all his life, he’s attacked by an enigmatic group, the Brotherhood of the Grail.  When he is whisked away from them to underground sanctuary by an even less explicable pair of men, he comes into the possession of what is apparently an ancient relic. His dreams get worse!

His friends search first for Dan, and then for the meaning behind the mystifying events they stumble upon. We readers learn the clues, the connections and the mythologies at the same pace as the band of searchers as they dodge villains and attempt to pin down straight answers.

This is as much a story about these characters and their idiosyncrasies and relationships as it is about a myth-riddled artefact. I liked this approach, as the details and lore of each mystery never got too heavy, too scholarly. We learn, together with our little band, enough to get some sense of things, and then are on the way again, as the quest develops into a dangerous trek in the mountains.

This novel will be enjoyed the readers who love to delve into the mysteries of ancient myths and at the same time enjoy a good adventure – and isn’t that most of us?

Patricia Leslie gives more details about this, including how she came to write, and also her other books at patricialeslie.net.

Where to find it: Amazon, BookDepository, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Chapters Indigo and more. Or ask your friendly local bookshop to obtain it for you.

You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a dark coffee tragic and bibliophile as well as the Guardian and blundering typist for Mawson Bear, Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.